Q: I get very frustrated with my children when they don’t obey me, even down to the simplest of instructions, and I end up yelling at them. How can I stop yelling at my kids?
A:Thank you, thank you, thank you for asking this very pertinent and timely question. Unfortunately, yelling has become quite commonplace among today’s parents (as opposed to 60-plus years ago). Therefore, almost everyone reading this column will benefit from it.
Parents who love their children unconditionally and want to be the best of parents yell because they tolerate misbehavior. Tolerant parents repeat themselves, threaten, bluster, and otherwise work themselves into a state of frustration that eventually expresses itself in yelling. Intolerant parents do none of that—and by intolerant, I mean parents who refuse to tolerate disobedience and misbehavior. Said parents are mean—and again, by that I’m not suggesting that they’re unkind or abusive. A parent who qualifies as “intolerant” and “mean” doesn’t yell. She says what she means and refuses to bend. Said parent is virtually unflappable, which is to say she’s cool, calm, and collected.
The child may think the parent or teacher is being mean, as in unkind or even abusive, when he or she discovers that the parent says precisely what he means and means precisely what she says. No doesn’t mean maybe. No means no. When a parent says, “I want you to do thus and so,” he or she means that the child is going to do it and doesn’t mean anything short of that.
“Mean” parents don’t negotiate, backtrack, equivocate, or blow smoke. They don’t threaten or give second chances. For example, if a mean parent tells a child to go straighten and clean his room and the child pushes back or fails to perform the task properly, the mean parent might clean the child’s room herself and then ground the child to the home for two weeks with early bedtime. The mean parent in this example gives the instruction once. The child had one chance to either obey or disobey. If the child chooses to disobey, the mean parent doesn’t repeat, complain, berate, bluster, give second chances, threaten, jump up and down while flapping her arms, or yell. She was calmly intolerant; therefore, she did not yell.
I’ve polled hundreds of audiences on the issue of yelling, and I’ve discovered that the percentage of parents who yell frequently has at least tripled in the past 50 years or so. And the percentage of children who habitually disobey at first instruction has risen accordingly. During that time, the nature of the child has not changed. The increase in yelling is due to today’s parents being more tolerant of misbehavior.
The intolerant parent doesn’t repeat himself, doesn’t give reasons and explanations, does reply with “because I said so” if asked for a reason or explanation, and uses consequences that instill permanent memories in the child’s mind. The payoff for children who grow up with these intolerant, mean parents is that they are rarely, if ever, yelled at.
I’m sorry to disappoint, but if you yell at your children, you don’t do so because they are strong-willed or argumentative or can’t take no for an answer. You yell at your children because you are weak-willed, accept invitations to argue, and can’t say no and mean it. Stop trying to change your children. Change yourself. Be a mean parent. Mean what you say and stick to it.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.